It’s one of the most popular comic strips of all time: “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. But it wasn’t all about Charlie Brown. There were Lucy, Snoopy, Violet and, my favorite, Pig-Pen – the little boy who couldn’t stay clean. He was always surrounded by a cloud of dust and dirt. He couldn’t walk through a snowstorm without getting dirty.
Sometimes, it seems, Bill and Hillary Clinton have a Pig-Pen problem: Trouble follows them wherever they go. They’ve survived a long string of scandals, some real and some manufactured: Whitewater, the Lincoln Bedroom, Vincent Foster, Monica Lewinsky, Marc Rich, Benghazi, foreign government contributions. And now they’ve got a new one: Emailgate.
Like most of the previous Clinton scandals, there’s less to this one than meets the eye. As reported most recently by the New York Times (first reported by Gawker in 2013), when she was secretary of state, Hillary Clinton chose not to use a State Department account for email. Instead, she set up and exclusively used a personal account for all email correspondence – which, AP later reported, was all routed, not through a State Department server, but through a homegrown Internet server she and former President Clinton had installed in their home in Chappaqua, New York.
Hillary haters were quick to accuse the former secretary of state of breaking the law, hiding important evidence, violating the Obama administration’s pledge of utter “transparency,” and basically writing their own rules about emails, the same way they’ve done about everything else. And, ever so predictably, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., seized on the possibility of missing emails as an excuse for launching a whole new round of hearings on Benghazi.
The facts say otherwise. Clinton was not the first secretary of state to use a personal email account. So did Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, for at least part of their correspondence. In fact, John Kerry is the first to make exclusive use of a State Department account. Moreover, using a personal account was not against the law when Clinton was secretary. The law making it illegal to conduct public business on a non-official email account was not signed into law by President Obama until 2014. Once the State Department, in response to various Freedom of Information requests, asked for copies of her emails, she provided them with 55,000 pages worth. On March 4, she tweeted out: “I want the public to see my email,” and asked the State Department to release them all.
But that merely raises other questions. How secure was her private email account? Who decided which of her emails were provided to the State Department and which were not – and according to what guidelines? What’s contained in the missing emails, and why were they kept secret? And then the biggest unanswered question of all: Why did she feel compelled to set up her own private email network in the first place?
To me, that’s the biggest problem with this email flap. For Hillary Clinton, it’s not politically fatal. Far from it. She and her husband have survived far bigger scandals. But it’s all so unnecessary. It never should have happened. It may not have been illegal, but it was certainly sloppy and careless to decide to bypass the official State Department email network – especially for someone who knew she might run for president in 2016.
And now we see the results: providing more ammunition for the Clinton hate machine; forcing Democrats and the White House to explain and defend her email operation; triggering another round of congressional hearings; and igniting a scandal that won’t go away until all the votes are cast in November 2016.
Out of all this mess, however, there’s one important lesson to be learned, and it’s this: Stop the coronation! Instead of just assuming that Hillary will be the Democratic nominee, party leaders should be actively recruiting Democrats to run in 2016: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jerry Brown, Martin O’Malley, Andrew Cuomo, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand and others.
And I say that as one who loves Hillary Clinton. I want her to be president. I think she’d make a great president. But the way to get there is not to hand her the nomination. It’s to make her fight for it and prove herself in a hotly contested primary. Clearing the field for Hillary is the worst mistake the Democratic Party could make. After all, she needs the challenge of a primary, and she could stumble badly as a candidate. It’s happened before.